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Baker Says Dialogue Won’t Focus on Final Status of the Territories

Secretary of State James Baker has again emphasized that the aim of his five-point proposal is to bring about a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, not to set the stage for discussions on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The five points “make it clear that the major substantive matter to be discussed in the dialogue is a question of modalities for elections” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Baker told reporters Tuesday.

Under the elections proposed for the territories by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Palestinians would choose representatives to negotiate self-rule. Once Palestinian autonomy was established, there would be negotiations on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Baker, who was scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday night from Australia, spoke to reporters during a fuel stop in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

He repeatedly stressed that the peace process is a “long way” from any discussion on the final status of the territories. “Before you can even consider questions like that, you must first establish a dialogue between the parties,” he said.

The secretary of state said Israel’s acceptance of his five points is “a very positive step,” but “only the first step, in what might well be a very long and complicated process.” He said the next step is for Egypt to agree to the proposal.

“We are taking a look at Israel’s request for certain assurances with respect to a couple of the five points,” Baker said. But he said no requests for clarification or assurances had come as yet from either Egypt or the Palestinians.

But Baker added that he has made it clear to both Israel and Egypt that “to the extent we’re asked for any kind of private assurances, that each side will know the exact nature of any assurances that we provide the other side.”